MANILA - President Benigno Aquino and then suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima met with Special Action Force (SAF) officials just 2 weeks before the botched Mamasapano operation.
This was revealed by axed PNP-SAF Chief Supt. Getulio Napeñas when he testified before the joint Senate committees on public order and dangerous drugs and peace, unification, reconciliation, and finance.
"On January 9, 2015, we police Director General Purisima, myself and Senior Supt. [Fernando] Mendez [director, intelligence group] went to Malacañang and met His Excellency at the Bahay Pangarap for a mission update and the new concept of operations. We named this operation 'Oplan Exodus,'" Napeñas said.
At that time, Purisima was already suspended as PNP chief by the Ombudsman because of corruption allegations.
"[Aquino] cited about coordination with the AFP that he earlier said in his [January 28] press statement. After the update, Mendez and myself went out while Purisima stayed behind," Napeñas said.
ROXAS, ESPINA NOT TOLD OF OPERATION
"It was when he [Purisima] came out that Purisima stated 'Huwag mo munang sabihan yung dalawa, atsaka na 'pag 'andun na. Ako ang bahala kay (AFP chief) General Gatapang," he added.
Purisima was referring to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
Napeñas said he is not anyone's stooge, more so of Purisima.
"I am not, was not, will never be a 'bata' of anyone. It was mentioned I was a bata of Purisima. I was never connected to any official from both military and police or any politician. Or have never been under Purisima except when he was chief PNP, and I was head of the SAF."
In his televised speech last Friday, Aquino implied that Napeñas was responsible for the botched operation, noting that there were 3 opportunities to abort the operation.
Napeñas appeared to address the issue and said that for the past 4 years, they had intelligence reports stating that Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was hiding in Mindanao under the protection of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Napeñas also revealed that based on one report, Marwan planned to bomb the convoy of Pope Francis last January 18 when he was in Manila.
"Just recently, during Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines, we have information that Jemaah Islamiyah, in coordination with Marwan, planned to construct a bomb to be detonated as the papal convoy drove down T.M. Kalaw street in Manila on January 18, 2015," he said.
He also said that around 30 "students" of Marwan are roaming in Central Mindanao "ready, willing and able to create" and spread terrorism.
Napenas said PNP-SAF leaders were not remiss in their obligations to properly prepare and coordinate the attack.
"Far from truth, nagkaroon ng maayos, mahaba, masusing pagplano (at) koordinasyon na ginanap bago (ang) pagsugod sa Mamasapano," he said.
MANHUNT FOR MARWAN
Napenas said he has spent almost 10 years of his career pursuing Marwan. The manhunt includes "Oplan Wolverine" in April 2014, which according to him was aborted because the Army's 6th Infantry Division (6th ID) withdrew its commitment to provide mechanized units to support the operations.
He revealed that the plan was approved by Purisima.
A subsequent operation was launched on May 30, 2014 but this was also aborted because of armed groups' activity in the area.
Ten days later on June 10, 2014, the Army's 6th ID Mechanized Brigade launched a raid against Marwan and Usman in the same location in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Napeñas cited this as the reason why the SAF, in its succeeding operations, decided that coordination with the AFP will be "time on target"to avoid the possibility that its operations will be compromised.
"The main reason is that information and preparations... are leaked whenever major operations against high-value targets are conducted as subjects are being cuddled (sic) by the MILF, whose members have a lots of contacts with the AFP and PNP," he said. "Thus, the high level of operation security and secrecy are necessary."
Napeñas also recalled how Purisima approved the November 29, 2014 operation to get Marwan that was named "Oplan Terminator."
Purisima approved it in a meeting at the PNP chief's official residence. "[He said] Go, but I have to tell the President regarding this," he supposedly said.
The operation was however aborted due to equipment failure. "Oplan Terminator 2" was launched but tactical boats were attacked by a lawless group en route to the site.
On December 23, 2014, AFP and PNP officials met for a coordination meeting for the use of precision-guided bomb. However, this was aborted because they were told the Air Force doesn't have the munition.
During the interpellation by Senator Antonio Trillanes, Napeñas said Aquino gave no orders during their January 9 meeting. "Hindi po nagbigay ang Presidente ng order. It was a mission update that was given."
Napenas later said heeding Purisima's "advice" not to tell higher-ups about the operation was his judgment call, considering Purisima was in touch with the President.
He later said Purisima actually helped the operation.
He also clarified that there was no order not to reinforce the trapped SAF commandos.
Senator TG Guingona then asked Purisima, who was seated just 2 seats away from Espina, about the circumstances behind the supposed instructions to leave Espina and Roxas out of the loop.
"Ano nasa utak niyo nung sinabihan na huwag sabihan iyung 2, inorderan mo not to follow the chain of command? Ano ang motivation?" Guingona asked.
Purisima replied that he was merely giving an "advice."
"During my preventive suspension, I didn't give any order to officials regarding 'Oplan Exodus.' If I ever uttered words to that effect, it was a guidance. Napenas knows very well he couldn't and shouldn't follow orders from someone who isn't in the chain of command," Purisima said.
"No, your honor. I just gave advice."
Napeñas however said that he got a text message from Purisima on January 19 wherein Purisima inquired about his plans. "I responded, 'Plan for the operation is go on the timeline, January 23-26. (We) will move from Zamboanga to Central Mindanao on January 22. Intelligence will closely monitor situation."
He said he proceeded with no one giving him direct instructions. "Continuing operations approved by Purisima on 'Terminator 1,' November 29, 2014. There was no direct order. I based on continuing operations. It's me who decided to go on that window [January 23-26]."
The AFP, in its own report, indicated that Purisima got in touch with the head of the military's Western Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero to inquire about the SAF operation.
It was also revealed that the MILF knew as early as 6:30 a.m. on January 25 that its fighters were attacking government forces.
Rashid Ladiasan, chair of the MILF side of the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities, said they called for a ceasefire.
"Unang information ko po, pinapacheck ko anong information sa bakbakan sa Tunkanalipao. Ang sabi ko, the military is engaged. Unang gagawin, ceasefire na natin."
Senator Francis Escudero said, "At 6:30 a.m., alam na ng MILF kalaban niyo government troops?" Ladiasan replied, "Opo."
Escudero then asked why it took the MILF 6-7 hours before its fighters stopped firing their guns. 'We have ongoing peace talks. Nung nalaman nyong gubyerno 'yun 'di ba dapat ang immediate reaction tigil na agad?"
Ladiasan replied, "Ganun po intention namin, disengage ng situation sa ground. Kaya lang po, coordination ang problema. Wala kaming nakuhang coordination. 'Di ko intention pangunahan ang [MILF] investigation pero sa information, sila (MILF) ang unang pinaputukan."
SENATE PROBE CONTINUES
Napenas was among the resource persons who spoke at the hearing Monday. First to address the Senate was Roxas, who promptly turned over the floor to the head of the PNP Board of Inquiry, CIDG Director Benjamin Magalong.
Espina also spoke and declared the PNP's support for the peace process.
The Senate committee decided to take the testimony of surviving SAF members Supt. Raymond Train and PO2 Christopher Lalan away from the deliberations at the session hall over concerns for their safety and health.
They are still recovering from injuries sustained in the botched operation.
Napenas also paid tribute to the efforts of the SAF, who he claimed managed to kill at least 250 enemies.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohager Iqbal did not attend the hearing.
Senator Grace Poe said Iqbal wrote to her to inform her that their invitation was referred to the MILF central committee.
Napenas also said he had radio communication with the AFP and did not see any drone during the operation.